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Sass Rogando Sasot: Love Advocate

After a suicide attempt, “I lived with a deep sense of purpose: I would help initiate a transgender movement in the Philippines, and I’d like to become part of a group that would help initiate change in our society,” recalls Sass Rogando Sasot, who helped establish STRAP that now help to empower transpinays.

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Sass Rogando Sasot
Co-founder, Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines

“Engaging in activism, especially in an advocacy work that is so close to your heart, can be so depressing and frustrating sometimes – but this kind of activism is about stimulating a paradigm shift, and history has shown us that paradigm shifts come not so easily, (with) a critical mass needed for deep-rooted change. You cannot create this critical mass, but you can be part of it,” says Sass Rogando Sasot.

“I got involved, and am still involved, in transgender (TG) activism and advocacy because of love.”

That, says Sass Rogando Sasot, is how she, well, got involved in GLBTQIA advocacy.

“My high school life was laced by intense doubt about everything handed to me by culture and tradition. I questioned the way things are. Blind conformity suffocated me.”

In 1999, as a fourth year high school student, “gender gender politics aroused my interest,” says Sass, who, at that time, had a relationship “with one of my classmates, (which) sparked a scandal in my school, an exclusive Roman Catholic school for boys. Everyone wanted to offer an explanation why my boyfriend fell in love with me: Was he insane? Or was he a homosexual? My boyfriend and I even had an awkward conversation about this, with me asking him: ‘Do you like me because I’m a boy?’  He said no. For him and for me, he was just a boy falling in love and having a relationship with a girl. But, ultimately, it was a non-issue for us. After all, it wasn’t gender identity nor sexual orientation that sparked the love we felt and shared with each other. Love, after all, is genderless, hence has no sexual orientation.”

Sass, of course, recognizes “that strange tenacity to force other people to define themselves so that we can bear the indefinability and immensity of life and love by turning them into spectacles of convenient labels,” she says. It was, after all, this tendency to define, i.e. in the “way people treated my boyfriend” that made Sass “so concerned to define my gender. This quest for definition led me to know and understand transsexualism (TS).”

GROWING PAINS

Sass’ earliest exposures to TS were through the Internet – understandably predominated by Western literature, so that “at an early age of 17, my brain devoured everything about transsexual issues. I read, through the website of symposion.com, the e-book version of Harry Benjamin’s seminal book, The Transsexual Phenomenon. I related so much to his description of transsexualism. From that moment, I considered myself as a transsexual girl,” she says.

Male-to-female transsexualism was, by the way, the subject of Sass’ term paper in her English class (then).

After self-identifying as a TS, Sass came out to her mother through a letter – and it would become one of the most painful decision she is to do in life.

“Through a letter, I told her that I was not gay, that I was a transsexual, that I wanted to start taking hormones, and live full time as a woman. It was the first time I opened up to a family member,” Sass says.

Perhaps she should have anticipated the usual (negative) reaction, but “I thought she would be supportive. I was wrong. It alarmed her. She had my hair, which was below my chin (then), cut so incredibly short. She insisted that I am not a girl but a boy because I have a penis. And that instead of reading the stuff I was reading, I should start reading those that would forge a male identity in me. She advised me to start thinking ‘I’m a boy’ and nothing else. She assured me that there is nothing going to happen in my life if I insist on what I like and that my talent and intelligence would just waste away because society will never accept people like me. To cap it all, she threatened that she would not pay my college education if I would continue my delusion.’”

It was this reaction from a loved one that developed in Sass internalized transphobia – with her initial “acceptance that perhaps my mother was right,” especially since she had no one to turn to for support, so she came to think, too, that “There’s nothing good that was going to happen to me if I would insist on what I said I am: I would just end up as society’s entertainment. To go on existing like what she insisted me to be, which is as a man, and to live as what I felt myself to be, which is as a woman, were no different from being dead.”

Unhappy with her situation, and the seeming futility of living, Sass attempted suicide in December 2000.

PURPOSE DRIVEN

After Sass’ suicide attempt, “I lived with a deep sense of purpose: I would help initiate a transgender movement in the Philippines, and I’d like to become part of a group that would help initiate change in our society. I want a society that would cherish, value, and respect the flourishing of one’s individuality. My 20th century ended with this purpose flickering inside of me, driving me to go and explore the world,” she says.

That was after EDSA 2 (which saw the removal from the Office of the Presidency of Joseph Ejercito Estrada), sometime in January 2001, when Sass – after writing to volunteer herself to, among others, Amnesty International-Philippines and the Rationalist Humanist Society of the Philippines. The latter allowed her to meet “a group of free thinkers, passionate individuals, mostly from a generation senior than mine, who would like to propel secularism in the Philippines.”

Among the people Sass met were “Poch Suzara, a staunch atheist and humanist; and Margarita Ventinalla-Hamada, founder of Harvent School, a school in Pangasinan (a province in the Philippines) which doesn’t use grades and considers its students as individuals rather than a group of people receiving indoctrination”; and Aleksi Gumela, who “shared the same dance that I was dancing – a gay guy, an anarchist, an atheist, a freethinker, a bohemian, a philosopher, an artist, a creature of the counterculture. Aleksi shared the same zest for exploring life beyond tradition and conventions that was flickering in me,” Sass says.

It was Aleksi who introduced Sass to the Luneta University – a gathering of free-spirited radicals (meeting at the Chess Plaza), “self-styled rebels with a lot of cause,” who gathered for “discussions on philosophical questions: from art, to boredom, to god, to stupidity. We nurtured each other’s intellectual development.

Sass Rogando Sasot: “Society is so genital-centric. The genitalia, a minuscule part of a person, become the most definitive part of the body – more than our brains. If you’re going to come to think of it, the male and female on our birth certificates, as well as the question ‘Are you boy or a girl?’ are all euphemisms to telling others and asking you what genitalia you have between your legs.”

The homeless, the vagabonds, and sidewalk vendors listened to our conversations. We wanted freedom from the fangs of hierarchy. We believed in no gods, in no masters, in personal liberation, in individuality, in diversity, in mutualism, in a voluntary society. We held Food Not Bombs sessions. We marched in anti-globalization rallies. But along our seriousness, we had our share of fun and deep belly laughter. It was our la vie boheme!”

It was this partnership with Aleksi that paved the way for the formation of the Luneta Freedom Collective (LFC), a counterculture performance art group that performed in “artsy” bars, in a zine convention, in an underground punk concert, in protest rallies, in a gathering of filmmakers in a full moon’s night, in the park, in schools – and it was this that allowed Sass to showcase Ayoko sa mundo nyo (I don’t want to be in your world), a monologue she wrote about the struggle for personal gender and sexual liberation.

KILLING THE SPIRIT

In May 2001, Sass experienced yet another blow of discrimination.

“It was from the college department of the school where I finished my elementary and secondary school. I was already aware that they were tough about ‘effeminate’ students – after all, it was a school with: 1) An official recommendation letter form that asked the person writing your recommendation, who was usually your class adviser and guidance counselor, to rate your masculinity from 1 to 10; and 2) That required ‘effeminate’ students, along with their parents, to sign a ‘pink form’ that acted as sort of contract that the student wouldn’t be ‘effeminate’ in school. These things were already horrendous, right? What they did to me was more deplorable – I wasn’t allowed to take the entrance examination,” Sass recalls, adding how “the head of the admission’s officer, Mrs. C, had the gall – or the conscience – to talk to me and explained right in my face why they were doing it.”

Supposedly, for being effeminate (sans recognition for her being for being a TS), Sass was considered a bad influence – “That they know that I was an intelligent student, but, since it was an all-boys’ school, a Catholic school, the way I presented myself would be problematic,” Sass says. “Then she tried to console me by giving me a dash of hope. Sensing my desperation, she issued some sort of a bargain: If I were willing to act as some kind of a role model to the younger years, they might consider me. That I would show that I have changed, that I have let go of my ‘old ways,’ that I would clearly demonstrate that I was a reformed flamboyant effeminate who finally embraced and accepted his masculinity.”

Sass, of course, couldn’t live a lie.

At that time was when Sass got connected with the Task Force Pride (TFP) Philippines, the group that organizes the annual Pride March in Metro Manila – a group that, for a while, was in the receiving end of Sass’ anger, blamed for “claiming that they were representing LGBTs, even if they didn’t really understand transgender issues, and that what they were doing was just tokenism.” It was select people from TFP (particularly Malu Marin and Ging Cristobal) who encouraged Sass to form a transgender group.

RISE OF STRAP

That discrimination is done even by those suppose to fight anti-discrimination is a fact, e.g. On July 29, 2001, the Regional Director of the Commission on Human Rights in Cebu, Attorney Alejandro Alonzo, commenting on a TG being barred entry to a club in Cebu City for wearing women’s clothing, was quoted as saying: “They (gays) should wear proper attire, and I don’t think (the club’s policy is) a violation because customers should follow the house rules. There should be appropriate attire because they are governed by dress code.” He added: “If you’re a man, you should wear the apparel of a man or vice versa.”

The continuing discrimination – and lack of representation to speak in behalf of the discriminated – led in 2002 a meeting between Sass and Jane, who agreed to meet to discuss the formation of a transgender support and advocacy group, the Society of Trans and Gender Rights Activists of the Philippines (STRAP).

In July of 2002, Sass met Vee (through a common friend), and then in November in 2002, Sass met Dee (who read a transcript of Sass’ speech delivered in Italy on the website of Transgender Asia Research Centre), leading to another meeting in December 2002, when STRAP was “formally” established.

Unfortunately, for its lack of focus (“After all, the transgender community is such a broad and diverse group with so many issues and concerns,” Sass says), STRAP was only active for a year and then became dormant.

In March 2003, Sass then became a research assistant for Dr. Sam Winter, centre director of Transgender Asia Research Centre (TARC), which did a study on male-to-female (MTF) transgender people in the Philippines, particularly in the three major cities of Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, and Metro Davao.

Interestingly, completion of the research (done in 2003 and 2004, with the output published in the Volume 11 of the International Journal of Transgenderism, the journal that Sass herself used to read in high school) triggered “one of the most depressive episodes, so far, in my life. As I was talking to respondents, I got so immersed into their stories. I felt their hopelessness, their apathy, their utter resignation that ‘it’s just the way things are.’ I became extremely jealous of their resignation. I envied their apathy.”

Sass, at first, “did all escape possible to get out of this crisis. I partied a lot. Dated a lot. I did everything to make my depression bearable. My life was in chaos. I was so lost, lost, lost, and lost. I could no longer recognize who I was.”

In October 2004, Sass decided to go back to her family, “hoping to retrace my footsteps and find what I had lost along the way.” This meant becoming “masculine” – something that made her mother happy enough to send Sass to school again; though the stay only lasted for a year, when Sass was able to “slowly emerge from the abyss I had fallen into.”

On May 20, 2005, Sass met up with Dee and Veronica to re-launch STRAP – this time, “making (it) focus on one issue (which in itself is complex enough) to make it more effective and efficient in the long run.” STRAP, despite retaining the acronym, was also renamed as the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines.

In October 2005, Sass decided to finally “end my masquerade – since there was no way I could live as a woman and be with my family, I left them. I stayed with friends and worked in call centers.”

By then of course, she has already become one of the key voices to represent the TG and TS community – e.g. in 2006, Sass served as a moderator for the opening plenary session of the First Transgender Rights Conference (also during the 23rd International Lesbian and Gay Association or ILGA World Conference) in Geneva, Switzerland.

In 2006, too, after a friend (Sophia) helped her, Sass secured an educational grant, so she is now back to school, taking up Human Resource Management at the Open University of Hong Kong.

BIG INSPIRATIONS

“I prefer the word inspire to influence because the people I encountered in my life inspired me to spark by myself this passion rather than influence me to have this passion,” Sass says.

Sass Rogando Sasot: “I prefer the word inspire to influence because the people I encountered in my life inspired me to spark by myself this passion rather than influence me to have this passion.”

Among those to inspire her include: “My boyfriend in high school was so supportive of my interest – we saw a book (Patrick Califia’s Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism) in the book section of Tower Records sometime in 2000, and he bought it for me, and that took my journey into the world of transgender activism and gender and sexuality issues into a much deeper level.”

And then, since her days in Luneta, her friend Aleksi; FTM activists (“My first real mentors”); Jamison Green (“An FTM activist and an international transgender activist – I consider him as my first mentor”); Dr. Stephen Whittle, OBE (one of the founding members of Press for Change UK, and one of the writers of the Yogyakarta Principles); and Briton Sophia (“who helped me have education”).

And then there are Dee Mendoza (“Current chairwoman of STRAP, who inspired me to be diplomatic); Pau Fontanos (“Her hard work for the community has been a constant source of inspiration”); Bemz Benedito, secretary of Ang Ladlad Party List (“who stood up for her dignity in the sexual harassment case she filed against a co-worker”); Ms Georgina Beyer, a former Member of the Parliament of New Zealand, the first transsexual person in the world who was elected as an MP; and the women of STRAP (“They have been a constant source of joy and courage. They have widened my understanding of life, in general, and of living this kind of life, in particular”).

Becoming a TG activist hasn’t been easy – but it’s always fruitful, says Sass. “Engaging in activism, especially in an advocacy work that is so close to your heart, can be so depressing and frustrating sometimes – but this kind of activism is about stimulating a paradigm shift, and history has shown us that paradigm shifts come not so easily, (with) a critical mass needed for deep-rooted change. You cannot create this critical mass, but you can be part of it.”

FACING CHALLENGES

“Being a transgender person is fraught with so much difficulty. Generally speaking, opportunities in life are already scarce. But the prejudice against people who violate gender norms raises the cost of getting an opportunity for people like us,” Sass says. Living as a TG “can be a lonely life. Having a loving relationship can be so difficult. Non-transsexual people don’t need to explain to whoever they are dating that genitals they were born with. There’s always that worry that people will reject you not because of you, as a person, but because you don’t fit the standard definition of what it means to be male or female.”

This is why, for Sass, advocating TG rights is important – and this is even if “doing advocacy work for TG people is like talking in a foreign language. How do you explain to people your internal reality, considering that most of us are too lazy to scratch beneath the surface and question the assumptions handed over to us by tradition? Moreover, society is so genital-centric. The genitalia, a minuscule part of a person, become the most definitive part of the body – more than our brains. If you’re going to come to think of it, the male and female on our birth certificates, as well as the question ‘Are you boy or a girl?’ are all euphemisms to telling others and asking you what genitalia you have between your legs.”

Sass elaborates: “I face the personal challenges of being a transgender person by appreciating the things that come my way, no matter how insignificant they seem. Just like in creativity, we get acquainted with happiness through the simple things in life. The world is certainly not beautiful all the time, but it’s also not just about hate, violence, despair, and all those horrible things. The beauty of a sunset, the elegance of a crescent moon, the eloquence of a shared laughter, the unselfish sound of rain, is all greater than the pain and loneliness we experience in this world.”

As an advocate, Sass considers an achievement “being able to inspire people to take the responsibility to stand up for themselves. Sometime in January 2009, while I was in Malate with friends, someone approached me and asked me whether I’m Sass Sasot. She was a young woman of transgender experience. She told me that she was inspired by the article I wrote for (the now defunct) ICON Magazine and that she was inspired to follow her dreams wherever it will take them. That moment was just so heartwarming.”

There remain challenges, obviously – and not just for Sass and/or the TG community, but the whole GLBTQIA community.

“This is what disappoints me: the current lack of dialogue in the community – this prevents us from having a united front,” Sass says, adding that she is, nonetheless, inspired by GLBTQIAs “who have an intimate affair with their courage.”

For Sass, there are three issues the Filipino GLBTQIA community has to focus on, i.e. 1) The passage of the Anti-Discrimination law (“We need legal remedies if we experience unfair discrimination based on our sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression”); 2) Dialogue with the business and school communities (“The key players in these two sectors can pave the way for making the workplace and schools in our country safe for sexual and gender diversity”); and 3) Passage of a Gender Recognition Law similar to that of the UK and Spain (“It’s about time that the lived gender identity of transsexual people be reflected on their legal papers “).
With these, Sass, not surprisingly, intends to “follow the beating of my star, keep on drumming my own drum, and perhaps, along the way, find someone I can share my song with. Life is always throwing me in directions where I always get involved with transgender issues, so you can expect me that in whatever I do in life will be along these lines or at least intersects with it.”

STANDING PROUD

Pieces of advice are, says Sass, oftentimes a result of one’s frustration in life; “but if you insist that I give them, here they are: First: remember that you are doing it for yourself. This may sound as an egoistic way of approaching advocacy. I’m not a fan of advocating ‘selflessness’ as I firmly believe that selflessness cannot be advocated, to campaign for it is to kill it. Know and understand yourself, don’t be afraid of your own shadow, and that of others,” Sass says.

She then adds that, second: Always remember that you are part of any system you are against, you were born out of it, you live in it. The system does not exist independently of us and we don’t exist independently of it – we build it as much as it builds us. We are not above, beyond, nor outside of it. Everyone is both a demon and an angel in this intricate web of oppression. To dismantle the system is to dismantle your self – be prepared, for it takes so much courage and honesty to accept this.”

And “third: In the course of your advocacy, you may affect some changes in policy, but these, at best, no matter how much we fought for them, are cosmetic ones. Change, like in matter, comes in subtle ways and this is the change that is transformative and the one that you will unavoidably exude after you yourself flow at one with the change you want in others. Light doesn’t preach to darkness, the night simply knows its time is over and gives way to daylight.”

It is still love that drives Sass now.

“Best lesson learned in life? That we are more than our pain and suffering. No matter how many times we fall, it is inevitable that we will stand up again,” Sass ends. “And if you want a lasting revolution, then LOVE! – dance with it!”

"If someone asked you about me, about what I do for a living, it's to 'weave words'," says Kiki Tan, who has been a writer "for as long as I care to remember." With this, this one writes about... anything and everything.

People You Should Know

Living with HIV in Digos City

Meet Robin Charles O. Ramos, a person living with HIV in Digos City in Davao del Sur. There are numerous challenges there – e.g. they still have to go to Davao City for their laboratory tests, and get monthly supplies of life-saving ARVs. But they are starting to organize so PLHIVs can help each other.

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“We cannot deny the fact that there are people who will really discriminate us (people living with HIV),” said Robin Charles O. Ramos, who is based in Digos City in Davao del Sur in Mindanao, southern Philippines. “(But) think twice… before you discriminate because (everyone can be infected with) HIV.”

BI AWAKENING

Charles, 33, used to be only attracted to girls. But when he was nine years old, “I (was also) attracted to boys. I realized that I am attracted to both sexes.”

Charles’ family teased him for this. But he added that it’s not like they can prevent him from being bisexual; this “runs in the family,” he said, with other family members also LGBTQIA.

“It was somewhat difficult for me to come out,” he said. This is because he lives in a “relatively small community (where people know me).”

Digos, a 2nd class city and the capital of the province of Davao del Sur, has a population of only 169,393 people (in 2015).

But Charles eventually told others, realizing the relevance of being true/honest to oneself. “I know it (may not be easy) but… the community will (eventually) understand who and what we are.”

FINDING OUT ABOUT HIS HIV STATUS

On November 30, 2017, Charles found out he has HIV.

Prior to the diagnosis, he recalled having bad health – e.g. his cough wouldn’t go away, he had lymph nodes in his throat, he easily got tired/stressed out, and he had recurring fever. He self-medicated, “taking paracetamol” and antibiotics.

“I lost a lot of weight,” Charles recalled, “from 56 kilograms to 48 kilograms.”

At that point, his mother told him: “It’s time to rush to the hospital.”

The attending physician had Charles undergo more tests… including HIV antibody test.

The person who gave him the news about his HIV status was “actually a friend of mine.” In fact, he pre-empted the counselor from telling him the result; “I told her myself, ‘It’s positive, right?’.”

EVERYONE CAN BE INFECTED

Even before then, Charles actually worked in HIV advocacy.

So the person who gave him the news about his HIV status was “actually a friend of mine.” In fact, he pre-empted the counselor from telling him the result; “I told her myself, ‘It’s positive, right?’.”

That was also “mind conditioning” for him, he said. “I conditioned my mind that I’m positive already… it’s a way of acceptance of the matter.”

Right there and then, Charles opted to tell family members. And they had one question for him: Why him, considering he’s in HIV advocacy, and should know better?

“Anyone can be infected,” Charles said to them.

“Think twice… before you discriminate because (everyone be infected with) HIV.”

BEING OPEN ABOUT LIVING WITH HIV

If there’s one thing Charles said that’s good about being out, it’s being able to get external help as needed.

“I lose nothing by coming out,” he said. And for him, “PLHIVs need to come out… as a strategy for us to eradicate stigma and discrimination.”

At this stage in his life, “I don’t care if they talk about me. This is already here. Just accept it.”

Charles is also a teacher, and he opted to tell his supervisors and peers about his medical condition. This honesty paid off since “they support me.” His workmates always remind him to “not be stressed” and “have time to rest”.

HIV-RELATED ISSUES IN DAVAO DEL SUR

HIV screening and/or testing is, at least, accessible to the people of Digos City, said Charles. The social hygiene clinic (SHC) of the local government unit (LGU), for one, offers this; and “every time we conduct (gatherings) about HIV, there is HIV testing (given).”

It is the access to life-saving medicines (the antiretroviral treatment, or ARV) that is problematic.

“Here in Digos City, ARV is not yet available,” Charles said.

And so PLHIVs from there have to go to the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) in Davao City, which is 62.5 kilometers away (or approximately an hour of commute).

If there’s one thing Charles said that’s good about being out, it’s being able to get external help as needed.

Many of the PLHIVs from Digos City go to SPMC together, renting a van to take them to and from Davao City for their regular tests and ARV supplies.

A related issue: PLHIVs have to go every month because they are only given a month’s supply because of procurement issues. The usual practice is to give PLHIVs supply for three months. And – even if the Department of Health denies that there are issues concerning ARV supplies – at least the Digos City experience highlights the continuing difficulty with accessing life-saving medicines.

The dream for PLHIVs like Charles is for a refilling station to be established in Digos City to serve not only those living there, but also the nearby localities of Kidapawan City, Davao Occidental, et cetera.

EMPOWERING THE HIV COMMUNITY

Charles recognizes that many try to help PLHIVs, but he also thinks that empowering PLHIVs to help each other is essential.

“We have formally created a group: Bagani Southern Davao,” he said. The name was derived from the word “Bagani”, the peacekeeping force of the Manobo tribes and other indigenous groups in Mindanao. Akin to the word, “we’re warriors; we’re fighting against this illness.”

There are currently 20 active members; though, of course, not all PLHIVs in the area are members.

The dream for PLHIVs like Charles is for a refilling station to be established in Digos City to serve not only those living there, but also the nearby localities of Kidapawan City, Davao Occidental, et cetera.

To other PLHIVs in the area, Charles said he recognizes that it may take time before they can decide if they’d come out. “I respect (this) decision… But coming out as PLHIV is a way of educating people that they shouldn’t fear us, and that (having HIV) isn’t the end of our lives or the end of anything.”

As PLHIVs, he said, “we have more to offer, more to do” particularly in educating people.

And to non-PLHIVs or those who do not know their HIV status: “Know your status. Get tested. And stop discriminating people. It’s not like we wanted this to happen to us. But this is already here. We just need your support, and the respect that we want because we’re still human beings.”

“I lose nothing by coming out,” he said. And for him, “PLHIVs need to come out… as a strategy for us to eradicate stigma and discrimination.”

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People You Should Know

L.A. musician and author Ross Victory gets candid about blackness, masculinity and bi-sexual heroes

Author and musician Ross Victory uses his story to entertain readers while pulling back the curtain of the under-, mis- and total lack of representation of bisexuality—black bisexuality—in social discourse. Without a community to fall back on to process pain and trauma, holding intersectional identities can create tension stemming from not being seen, heard, or believed.

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Paulo Freire said, “The oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors.” 

How often do our storylines, the narratives that make our life experiences unique, get lost in broader social discourse? How often does the oppression we encounter on our path compete with the oppression experienced right next to us? 

We need not look very far for the proof of patriarchal, misogynistic, racist, homophobic structures that provoke nationwide protests in America. #BlackLivesMatter, #Loveislove, #MeToo are cultural moments that reveal the United States’ ache for progress, and the public’s willingness to create new systems that support and uplift disadvantaged groups. 

Societal progress is slow. All too often, an experiencer’s oppression requires evidence to be accepted as valid. As a black or indigenous person of color, as a woman, as a bisexual in a straight/gay binary, or as a part of any disadvantaged group, each generation strives to do better than the last.

  • In 2020, George Floyd and BLM protests have pushed forward laws to prevent police brutality. 
  • In 2020, The Supreme Court has upheld the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protections that prevent employers from firing individuals based on their sexual orientation and transgender status.

Author and musician Ross Victory uses his story to entertain readers while pulling back the curtain of the under-, mis- and total lack of representation of bisexuality—black bisexuality—in social discourse. Without a community to fall back on to process pain and trauma, holding intersectional identities can create tension stemming from not being seen, heard, or believed.

Panorama: The Missing Chapter tells the story of two men of color, both bisexual, who bond together to escape familial dysfunction. The book observes race, masculinity, and orientation by taking readers on a fast-paced, cerebral journey through South Korean temples and Brazilian cartels. 

Victory both bites and soothes readers with memories that pop off the page like scenes from a film. Despite his hilarious descriptions and the irony he dresses as salaciousness and intellect, there are underlying expressions of resentment that grow as the book progresses.

Victory, the principal character, suggests that being black and visible as bi-sexual is not for the spiritually weak. 

Victory says, “Being black, you normalize being on high alert with police or employment interactions. Sometimes you catch a microaggression and have to decide if you have the energy to confront it or let it go. Then there are interactions where people say, “you’re different than other black people,” or “you’re incredibly articulate.” I was called the N-word once by someone on the street in LA, and even black people have described my blackness as “white-washed.” 

He continues, “Bisexuality, as an identifier, can be a double-edged sword. The mention of bisexuality can activate a damaging reflex from both straight and gay people of all races. You are immediately put on the defense. People instinctively have 21 questions and lose manners. I understand it’s not me, and it’s their idea of being bi, but those interactions make me feel that society needs to be categorized differently. There were black heroes to cling to, but no visibly bisexual heroes and surely no black bisexual heroes.”

Survey data from Stanford University and the Pew Research Center reports that “Bisexual adults are much less likely than gays and lesbians to be visible as bisexual to the important people in their lives.” Victory, and Alvi, a Brazilian immigrant, also bisexual, compare notes on the discrimination and stereotypes they’ve faced that may personalize Stanford’s research. 

“People under the bi umbrella (notably bisexuals and pansexuals) are the only segment of people whose attractions are multi-gendered,” Victory says. “That’s hard to understand if you believe your attractions to be singular…Naturally people who aren’t bi cannot fathom what that means. Some who do understand tend to uphold bi women as ‘more’ valid that bi men, both of us still subjected to patriarchy that reads: bi women are for men’s pleasure, and bi guys simply do not exist—if they do, it’s in proximity to gay men who were initially bi-curious. The double speak is wild.”

Both men, Victory, and Alvi, identified their bisexuality as virginal pre-teens without words to acknowledge how they felt. After years of trial and error, they learned that being open was not in their favor. Victory points to an African American religious and hyper-masculine Hip Hop culture that made his bisexuality hard to verbalize and accept. Alvi, despite being an immigrant of color, had a less challenging path.

Panorama gives readers an insight into the complex nature of the oppression that bi men face: the idea that they cannot commit, that their bisexuality is a choice or is preference-based, being hypersexualized by gay men, and being a topic of contention for straight women. “Between what I’ve experienced and also seen on YouTube, when you know you can “pass” as straight, why bother saying anything?! People want authenticity if it accounts for their biases. But I physically got to a place where I couldn’t erase myself anymore.”

“Bisexuality, as an identifier, can be a double-edged sword. The mention of bisexuality can activate a damaging reflex from both straight and gay people of all races… I understand it’s not me, and it’s their idea of being bi, but those interactions make me feel that society needs to be categorized differently. There were black heroes to cling to, but no visibly bisexual heroes and surely no black bisexual heroes.”

According to the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC), approximately 40% of bisexual people have considered or attempted suicide. The Human Rights Campaign has cited bi-erasure and biphobia as the leading causes. Heteronormativity is real, and straight people do not think about being straight, regardless of being sexually active. However, when someone who is not straight identifies themselves, they tend to be pegged as oversharing or sexualizing unnecessarily. 

At around nineteen years old, Victory writes that he began to experience heightened stress and mild depression. Victory links the period to the same time he discovered the word bisexual, began asserting it, then learned to suppress it.

Victory says, “There was a sense that being a man, a ‘real’ man, is based on how homophobic you can be. Don’t act feminine, bully feminine guys, don’t speak about same-sex attractions, don’t be sinful, and if you are doing some gay sh*t, definitely don’t speak about it. When you can pass as straight, you hear a lot of problematic stuff from men and women.”

Oppression is interlocked, but to be a healthy person, one need not split themselves into parts. Victory states that black people tend to support each other because we are all experiencing racist systems in this country. Men support each other based on cliques, ego-affirming activities, and female conquests. Bisexuals feel invisible because we chameleonize or get pigeonholed based on our partner’s sex. For example, I am the only visible bi person I know, but I am defaulted to straight.

Victory suggests that we need more stories that show the scope of bisexuality. Bi virgins, bi people in same-sex relationships, bisexuals in different-sex relationships, poly bisexuals, elderly bisexuals, celibate bisexuals, and more to show people the range of experiences that have gone invisible for too long. Representation will help society to learn not to pre-judge by the person’s relationship status and feminine or masculine qualities, and to break bisexuals away from explicit and promiscuous connotations. According to GLAAD’s inclusion report of 2018 & 2019, Director of Entertainment Research, Megan Townsend, stated that “Television still has work to do when it comes to telling our [bi] stories. Bisexual+ women far outnumber bisexual+ men on every platform.”

Ross Victory suggests that we need more stories that show the scope of bisexuality: bi virgins, bi people in same-sex relationships, bisexuals in different-sex relationships, poly bisexuals, elderly bisexuals, celibate bisexuals, and more to show people the range of experiences that have gone invisible for too long.

Not all is bleak. Victory closes Panorama with relief for readers who may relate to his story or have been triggered to look at themselves. Victory concludes the book artfully and soulfully. He uses inclusive language and employs the “divine masculine” and “divine feminine” to make a case for personal liberation. He underscores the importance of grace between humans, even those who harm us, by encouraging readers to build bridges between thought islands and to be the change they seek.

He suggests that all intersections—racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, gender, ableism, wealth, etc. —exist to be connected by bridges. Victory says, “Real men are bridge builders. Yes, society gives us labels – straight, bi, gay, black, white, Asian, etc.; labels are realities and come with certain connotations. But could you imagine if we men prioritized a commitment to buildto build each other up no matter the labels we inherit? Can you imagine if we congregated around how to reduce anger and heart attacks? Can you imagine how healthy we would be and how safe women would feel interacting with us?” Paulo Freire warned that, yes, the oppressed become oppressors, but also that peace is found through dialogue and language.

Victory image and words remind us that alienation can be a bona fide lesson in self-love. After the back-to-back loss of his dad and brother, he understands that all he can do is build the best he can, and let the rest go.

The last two pages of Panorama include mental health resources and articles to support people with multi-gendered attractions, their families, and friends.

Head to https://rossvictory.com for more information.

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VP Robredo extolls LGBTQIA community’s spirit; recognizes a lot of work still needs to be done

Vice President Leni Robredo expressed her support to the LGBTQIA community, even as she acknowledged that a lot of work still needs to be done, including passing an anti-discrimination law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQIA Filipinos.

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Screencap from the Facebook-uploaded message of VP Leni Robredo to the LGBTQIA community

Vice President Leni Robredo expressed her support to the LGBTQIA community, even as she acknowledged that even as the LGBTQIA community marks June as Pride month, a lot of work still needs to be done, including passing an anti-discrimination law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQIA Filipinos.

In a messages posted on her Facebook page, Robredo noted the uncertain times. “many of the things we once cherished and held on to are now being questioned and challenged,” she said in mixed Filipino and English. “Sa kabila nito, marami pa ring bagay ang di nagbabago at nagpapatuloy: tulad ng ating laban para sa patas na karapatan, dignidad at kalayaan.

Robredo noted that “for many decades, the LGBTQIA+ community has been tirelessly fighting for equal rights and representation at the frontlines. It has provided a shelter to the oppressed, a voice to the marginalized, and a family to those who have been abandoned by their own communities. Ito ang dakilang ambag ng LGBTQIA+ community sa ating (b)ayan.

She added: “Sa bawat Pride March na inyong inoorganisa, isang teenager ang mas nagiging proud na yakapin kung sino siya. Sa bawat awareness campaign na inyong sinisimulan, isang komunidad ang mas nagiging bukas ang isipan. At sa bawat pagpiglas ninyo sa tangkang pag-agaw ng ating mga kalayaan, isang bayan ang mas natututong lumaban.

There are – nonetheless – members of the LGBTQIA community “who hold positions of power in our society”, such as lawyers, executives, doctors, educators, artists, policymakers and public servants. The VP hopes that they will “use your influence to change mindsets, promote acceptance, and push for reforms on the ground. Now more than ever, we need to set an example to the younger generation. Ipakita natin sa kanila, na wala silang dapat ipangamba at na malaya silang maging kung ano at sino sila,” Robredo said.

The VP similarly recognized that teaching people to open their minds may be challenging, but “huwag sana kayong panghinaan ng loob.”

She suggested doing small steps to push for Pride, including forming support groups; reaching out to the needy; and introducing concepts re SOGIESC to relatives who may not be well-versed on the same.

Darating din ang araw na babalikan natin ang lahat ng ito at sasabihing, everything was worth the effort. Everything was worth the sacrifice. Everything worth the fight. Push lang ng push, mga besh,” Robredo added.

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Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach voices support for LGBTQIA community

Pia Wurtzbach said she’s making a stand so “that our friends and family in the LGBTQIA community have the right to take up space in our society… that their voices should be heard, that we don’t invalidate trans women as women.”

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Screencap from the Instagram account of Pia Wurtzbach

Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach voiced her support for the LGBTQIA community.

Via an Instagram post, Wurtzbach said she’s making a stand so “that our friends and family in the LGBTQIA community have the right to take up space in our society… that their voices should be heard, that we don’t invalidate trans women as women.”

She added: “We can learn to accept these concepts by having a dialogue. By listening and understanding our differences. we will grow and uplift one another as one community in strengthening equality and diversity.”

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Learning is always a two-way process.. we listen as we understand each other’s points of view. This #PrideMonth, we stand for the rights and advocacies of the LGBTQIA+ community. 🏳️‍🌈 Being an ally is someone who gives a sense of a safe and affirming space for our loving community… Let’s provide higher platforms for community members to openly discuss issues and concerns that affect us. 🙏 Here we can discuss our differences and remind ourselves that we are together on this journey, and achieve our shared goals for equality. ❤ . I know we may differ in opinions today.. but our constant discourse will make our tomorrow better because we understand one another better. This will also enable our broader community, especially those with differing views, to ponder on things that matter to our fellowmen. . Let me just make a stand that our friends and family in the LGBTQIA+ community have the right to take up space in our society…that their voices should be heard, that we don’t invalidate trans women as women. We can learn to accept these concepts by having a dialogue. By listening and understanding our differences.. we will grow and uplift one another as one community in strengthening equality and diversity. 😊🙏❤ Happy Pride! 🥰🏳️‍🌈

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Wurtzbach’s statement of support came after she co-hosted an online discussion involving Kevin Balot, who was crowned Miss International Queen in 2012. Balot reiterated her segregationist perspective, saying that when transgender women ask to join beauty pageants traditionally only for those assigned female at birth, “hindi na siya equality eh, parang asking too much na (this is no longer about equality; it’s already asking too much).”

In her Instagram post, Wurtzbach said that even if people had different opinions, it’s still important to provide platforms for community members to openly discuss “issues and concerns that affect us.”

For Wurtzbach, “this will also enable our broader community, especially those with differing views, to ponder on things that matter to our fellowmen… [O]ur constant discourse will make our tomorrow better because we understand one another better.”

This isn’t the first time Wurtzbach expressed her support to the LGBTQIA community.

In 2017, for instance, she called out the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) following a drug bust involving 11 men in Bonifacio Global City. “Because of what PDEA and the news outlet have done, some people are now associating drugs and immorality with being gay. It’s ridiculous,” she said then.

In 2018, she urged decision makers to address the causes that put young people at risk of HIV.

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‘Riverdale’ actress Lili Reinhart comes out as bisexual

Lili Reinhart – from “Riverdale” – announced that she is a “proud bisexual woman” in a post on Instagram.

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Screencap from Instagram

Lili Reinhart – who plays Betty Cooper in “Riverdale” – announced that she is a “proud bisexual woman” in a post on Instagram.

Reinhart’s revelation was linked with her post that she would be attending an “LGBTQ+ for Black Lives Matter” protest in West Hollywood in the US. Underneath a poster for the march, she wrote: “Although I’ve never announced it publicly before, I am a proud bisexual woman. And I will be joining this protest today. Come join.”

Reinhart dated co-star and onscreen partner Cole Sprouse, who played Jughead in “Riverdale.” The two had recently split.

Visibility, obviously, matters.

Earlier in June 2020, a study noted that those who have seen LGBTQIA representation are more accepting of gay and lesbian people than those who haven’t (48% to 35%). They are also more accepting of bisexual people (45% to 31%), and of non-binary people (41% to 30%).

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Emma Watson speaks out for trans rights after J.K. Rowling’s transphobic comments

“Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned.”

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Screen capture from the Instagram account of emmawatson

Emma Watson – who played Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” series – is the latest actor to speak out in support of transgender rights after author J.K. Rowling made controversial comments on Twitter that were deemed transphobic.

On June 6, Rowling posted a tweet equating womanhood with being able to menstruate.

When called out, she seemed to own up to the TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist, or women who claim to be feminist but do not believe transgender women are female). She also backed her perspective via a lengthy post that cited a study criticized for its transphobic bias.

Claiming to have read “all the arguments about femaleness not residing in the sexed body, and the assertions that biological women don’t have common experiences, and I find them, too, deeply misogynistic and regressive,” Rowling wrote. “Women (are told they) must accept and admit that there is no material difference between trans women and themselves… But, as many women have said before me, ‘woman’ is not a costume.”

Watson appeared in all eight of the big-screen adaptations of the books by Rowling. By expressing her support for transgender rights, she joins former costar Daniel Radcliffe (who played Harry Potter), and “Fantastic Beasts” star Eddie Redmayne who also voiced their disagreement to Rowling’s warped thinking and defense.

“Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are,” Watson tweeted.

In a subsequent tweet, she added that she wants “my trans followers to know that I and so many other people around the world see you, respect you and love you for who you are.”

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